In his latest foreign policy speech, John Baird was thinking of Quebec. In Montreal, and mostly in French, the Foreign Affairs Minister has made a first foray into fending off Parti Québécois charges that the Harper Tories’ approach to the world alienates Quebec.
Mr. Baird’s speech on Friday to the Conseil des Relations Internationales de Montréal emphasized human rights, and particularly efforts to promote women’s equality and combat discrimination against homosexuals. Part of his message of the “values” underpinning foreign policy was that they are shared by Quebeckers, too.
“These aren’t the values of conservatives, socialists or liberals. They aren’t the values of one province or another,” Mr. Baird said. “They are distinctively Canadian values.”
It was a start at countering the arguments of Quebec’s new PQ premier-designate, Pauline Marois, who has signalled she’ll use Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s foreign policy as an argument for separation – just as she contends the Conservatives’ approach to crime and the environment are foreign to Quebeckers. The Harper government’s plans to spend billions on F-35 stealth fighters, its emphasis on the military and cuts to foreign aid underline how Canada’s foreign policy has become “bellicose, militant, marked by a unilateralism that is more and more flagrant,” Ms. Marois said in an April speech.
Now, Mr. Harper’s government is seeking to emphasize shared values. The Prime Minister was in Quebec Friday to announce a new tribute to the War of 1812, and to argue that the war forged bonds that created a shared “pan-Canadian” identity that led to “a country of great diversity with two official languages.”
In Montreal, Mr. Baird, an Ottawa-born anglophone, delivered his lengthy speech in laboured but basically competent French. His message was less centred on the military role Mr. Harper has often lauded, or the trade goals driving much of Ottawa’s current international agenda, and focused on human rights and equality for women, which he called “a personal priority of mine.”
“I promote our principled foreign policy knowing there is broad support for giving women a bigger role in societies where people are free to be themselves,” he said. He cited funding for efforts to combat violence against women, Mr. Harper’s G8 maternal-health initiative and diplomatic efforts to promote the role of women in places like Libya and Afghanistan.
In particular, he highlighted an issue he has personally pressed as Foreign Minister: opposing the forced marriage of young girls. He told the story of a girl named Habiba, a child bride at 14 from Niger, who became pregnant at 15, lost her baby just hours after he was born when a simple procedure could have saved his life, and then was left by her husband and ostracized by her village. “If Canada won’t speak up for these girls, who will?” he asked.
He also emphasized combating the criminalization of homosexuality as a priority, insisting Canada has been raising the issue with countries that have never been pressed on it before.
The Conservative government wants Canada to take clear stands on issues like the role of women or the criminalization of homosexuality, and wants it to be “unambiguously free of moral relativism,” he said. But he insisted those arguments aren’t partisan – and cross provincial lines.